A-Class Catamaran having it both ways. Scuttlebutt interviews US legend Axel Issel.
Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with Florida A-Class sailor Axel Issel for an update.
The singlehanded A-Class Catamaran has a strong presence in the USA, which was strong enough to host the 2022 World Championship, and strong enough for the country’s Ravi Parent to win the Open division world title.
The A-Class Class rules allow for development, which is good for improving the boat but can get expensive as gear becomes obsolete. How does this impact participation?
The A-Class is divided into two sub-classes separated by different sets of measurement rules; the Foilers (Open) and non-foiling (the Classics). In the case of the Classics that have been around 67 years, most development has occurred in the last decade or so with the change from straight dagger boards to C foils and the deck-sweeper mainsail with curved booms.
Older hulls and masts remain competitive but the newer configurations do provide a slight advantage. Today, Classic boats from 10+ years keep winning Nationals and Continental championships and boats with straight booms and daggerboards still are in the top 5 in the Euro circuit.
The Classic fleet keeps growing in most countries due to the speed and simplicity of the boat; very competitive, tactical, fun races, with plenty of accessible boats around the globe. In many parts of the world, the Classics are very popular with larger numbers than Foilers like in the US/Canada, Italy, France, Australia, etc.
Sailors in Classics are competitive at all ages, many well into their 70s so it is a class where you can grow and be at the top for decades with your same boat for many, many years.
The Foilers have seen the most recent development. Here newer boats (2019-20 and newer) make a difference over older ones since they are easier and more stable to foil. Participation in the class is achieved in Classics due to very even and fun races with skippers with 20 years fighting 70s-year-olds. Participation in Foilers comes from younger sailors trying to master the fastest single-handed catamaran in the world.
Most of the top sailors in the world raced A-Cats at some point, even though it is a non-Olympic class. The A-Cat has consistently proven itself in the international scene whereby the World, European, and North American Championships are frequented by some of the most famous sailors in the world.
However, it’s always taken the dedication of a pure A-Class sailor to win the Championships. This demonstrates the high level of performance within the class and it leads to amazing numbers of entries for such events. Today, almost all top professional regattas are raced in foiling boats, like the America’s Cup, the Ocean Race, SailGP, etc, so learning and growing in a foiling A-Cat gives you experience and advantage, attracting young talents to the fleet.
When was the shift to foiling? How did the class endure that transition? Were there kits?
Foilers started around 2015, but in 2018 the class decided to create two sets of rules to keep the non-foiling boats competitive, and two sub-classes were born. I believe this was a wise decision, to make the class appealing to a wider population.
Today you can be competitive in your 20s and into your 70s, with a newer Foiler or with an older Classic. Regattas are usually scored in two fleets, and some, like the North American Championship regatta, have the two fleets + the “Overall NA Champion” who is the best skipper among the two classes.
The transition was progressive, initially some folks modified the trunks on the hull to insert the newer foiling blades. Today, to be competitive in Foilers, you need a newer foiling specific boat. Manufacturers build two models: the Foiler and the Classic. The Classic is lighter, simpler and less expensive. The Foiler has a lower hull profile; is heavier due to extra carbon needed to support extreme foiling forces, and needs better physical input.
Has the foiling equipment stabilized or is it still evolving?
For the last three years (late 2019-2020), there have been no new developments. The latest one was the rudder differential. Some have been working on differential for center foils with no success. Also, cambered sails with specific masts have been designed, but nothing new has come out. Until measurement rules for Foilers are changed, it will be difficult to see any new significant design improvement.
How is the used boat inventory in North America?
Today, there are around 20 used boats for sale. Some used boats for sale are almost new, like a 2022 Foiler and newer Classics. You can buy an old Classic for less than $5K and be competitive in the Classic fleet. Used boats and parts can be found in https://usaca.info/ and in https://www.facebook.com/groups/922063451790001/.
Who are the suppliers for North America? Are there any in the continent?
Boats and masts builders are in Europe. Today, the largest manufacturer of boats is eXploder from Poland (with accessible labor), which provides new Classics and Foilers. Fastboatstuff.com is their representative in the US, and they carry new boats and parts for almost all new and older model boats. North America is getting shipments from Europe usually two times per year with new boats and parts. I have been in the class three years and I always find the parts needed quickly. Top competitive sails are built here in the USA by Glaser, Sail Technologies, etc.
Why do Foilers and Classics race together?
Because it is way more fun, and way more competitive. The fleet is well mixed during races. In addition, it is a good way of keeping the fleet growing, making an easy and fun entry point to the class with more options. For example, I started in Classics two years ago and after the Worlds in Houston last year, I sold my Classic and I switched to the Open class.
Usually, the top Foilers will have an advantage but most part of the fleet is mixed. In lighter winds like sub 10 knots, the boats are even and in lighter non-foiling conditions, Classics are faster. Top light sailors can start foiling downwind around 8 knots but most of the foiling fleet foils closer with 10 knots of wind 100% air time, and upwind foiling is mastered only by the ultra-top sailors, and usually they need 12-13 knots of wind to make real gains over the top Classics going upwind.
For us, the newer foiling sailors, learning to foil (like me!), will always have Classics around showing how much ground is lost while we are trying to fly……and once on air, if we do not do the correct angle, Classics will pass you by. .Racing with 50 boats on the line, is always more fun than 20-30 boats, and chances are you always will have someone next to you on every mark.
What is the ideal sailor weight for the A-Cat?
I believe 170-195 pounds is the ideal range, NED 007 Mischa Heemskerk won the world championship several times and he is 225+ lbs; the latest World Champion USA 76 Ravi Parent (2022 Rolex Yachtsman of the year) weighs around 165lbs . Who knows….!
Where are the hubs of class activity in North America?
Florida concentrates 30% of the fleet, with Key Largo, and the Sarasota/Tampa Bay area being the most popular spots, followed by Fort Walton and Melbourne, FL. Lake Lanier in Georgia has one of the largest fleets, Annapolis/West River area is popular as well.
Lake Carlyle in Illinois, where we raced the 2021 North Americans, have several active boats. Also, there are 10 boats in Alamitos Bay in California, and there is a large fleet in Ontario Canada where we raced the 2022 North American Championship.
I heard a new fleet will grow soon in Mexico City as well. This year we are all looking forward to race in October the ‘Alter Cup’ in Pensacola, Florida, only for Classic boats, where skippers from other multihull fleets join the A-Catters to determine the best multihull skipper!